Tag Archives: communication

Understanding one another

Like us, dogs have their own forms of verbal and non-verbal communication.  Getting to know your dog and being a careful observer of their behavior helps you to develop a deep understanding of your dog.

We know that our dogs are great observers of our behavior, too.  That’s how they learn our cues, moods, and habits.

Having a good understanding of one another pays benefits when you have a dog who is getting older, or has disabilities.

Take Izzy.  She is an ex-racing greyhound and we’ve known for some time that she has arthritis in her carpus (wrist) and toes.  I picked up on the arthritis quite early.  I had noticed that almost every time I looked at her over the course of about a week,  she was licking her left foot.  A visit to the vet for an x-ray confirmed early signs of arthritic changes.  In response, she started getting rub-downs with an anti-inflammatory gel, I started her on additional deer velvet supplements (in addition to her glucosamine and chondroitin supplement) and I also increased the frequency of her visits to a local hydrotherapy pool and her massages.

Over the last year, we’ve also been battling corns  – something that plagues sighthounds in particular but has been aggravating her arthritis and was the main cause of her progressively becoming more lame.  I knew we were having a corn problem because she would limp only when crossing the road over chip-sealed road (intolerance of rough surfaces is typically the first sign).

As she then developed two corns on the same toe, her lameness became constant and our walks shorter, with a pram when she needed it.

Izzy had a flexor tenotomy surgery last month and this has helped greatly in managing the corns but of course the arthritis is still there, she is that much older, and she’s had months of reduced/shortened walks because of her lameness.

Now the bright side.  She is getting fitter and stronger and I’m carefully increasing the amount of activity she has.  Today, she didn’t want to go out initially for an afternoon walk and so I put her in her pram.

We got as far as around the block before she let me know she was ready to get out and walk.  (This is signaled by a high-pitched bark)

I know Izzy is getting tired when her head drops and she starts taking more and more time sniffing bushes, grass and trees.  These are signs that she is tiring and the excess sniffing is both a diversionary behavior and, at times, a sign she is stressed and uncomfortable.

That’s when I put her back in her pram.  She gets plenty of stimulation and enrichment by watching the world go by.  She also loves the attention she gets from passersby – both on foot and in cars.  (Shortly after I stopped this video, the couple who approached on foot spent at least 5 minutes talking to her, giving her treats and chatting about her care).

I am always grateful when people stop to talk to us about ‘what’s wrong with her’ and to ask about greyhounds and their welfare.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Owner Behavior Affects Effort and Accuracy in Dogs’ Communications

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Friedrich Schiller University in Jena have found that dogs adapt their communicative strategies to their environment and that owner behavior influences communicative effort and success. Experimental results found no evidence that dogs rely on communication history or follow the principle of least effort and suggest that owner behavior has a bigger impact on canine communication than previously thought.

Human communication has evolved mechanisms that can be observed across all cultures and languages, including the use of communication history and the principle of least effort. These two factors enable us to use shared information about the past and present and to conserve energy, making communications as effective and efficient as possible. Given the remarkable sensitivity of dogs to human vocalizations, gestures and gazes, researchers have suggested that 30.000 years of domestication and co-evolution with humans may have caused dogs to develop similar principles of communication – a theory known as the domestication hypothesis.

On this basis, researchers designed an experiment that would examine the factors influencing the form, effort and success of dog-human interactions in a hidden-object task. Using 30 dog-owner pairs, researchers focused on a communicative behavior called showing, in which dogs gather the attention of a communicative partner and direct it to an external source. 

While the owner waited in another room, an experimenter in view of a participating dog hid the dogs` favourite toy in one of four boxes. When the owner entered the room, the dog had to show its owner where the toy had been hidden. If the owner successfully located the toy, the pair were allowed to play as a reward. Participants were tested in two conditions: a close setup which required more precise showing and a distant setup which allowed for showing in a general direction.

The researchers found no evidence to suggest that dogs adhere to the principal of least effort, as they used as much energy in the easier far setup as they did in the more difficult close setup. However, this might have been a result of the owners influence on their dogs’ effort. Secondly, dogs were not affected by different communication histories, as they performed similarly and used similar amounts of energy in both setups regardless of which condition they began with. Despite putting in similar amounts of effort, dogs adapted their showing strategies to be more or less precise, depending on the conditions.

The findings indicate that a crucial factor influencing the effort and accuracy of dogs’ showing is the behaviour of the dog’s owner. Owners who encouraged their dog to show where the toy was hidden increased their dog’s showing effort but generally decreased their showing accuracy.

“We’ve seen in previous studies that if we keep eye contact with the dog or talk in a high-pitched voice, we seem to prompt a ‘ready-to-obey attitude’ which makes dogs very excited to follow our commands. So when owners asked their dogs ‘Is the toy here?’ and pointed at the boxes, they might have caused dogs to just show any box,” says Melanie Henschel, main author of the study.

Although the researchers found no effects of communication history or the principal of least effort, the current study indicates for the first time that owners can influence their dog’s showing accuracy and success.

“We were surprised that encouragement increased mistakes in dogs` showing accuracy. This could have impacts on the training of dogs and handlers in fields where dogs are working professionals. Future studies should focus on the complex effects of the owner’s influence and the best strategies for handlers communicating with a dog,” adds Juliane Bräuer, senior author and head of the DogStudies Lab at MPI-SHH in Jena.

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Human encouragement and how it may help dogs solve problems

Human encouragement might influence how dogs solve problems, according to a new Oregon State University study.

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, sheds light on how people influence animal behavior, said study lead author Lauren Brubaker, a doctoral student in OSU’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab.

Brubaker evaluated the behavior of search and rescue dogs and pet dogs when presented with the same problem-solving task. Both sets of dogs persisted at the task for about the same proportion of time, but the search and rescue dogs were more successful at solving the task when encouraged by their owners.

However, the search and rescue dogs didn’t solve the task when they were alone. Further, pet dogs that solved the task with their owner present – but not encouraging them – also solved it when they were alone, Brubaker said.

“We thought that was unusual,” Brubaker said. “Because search and rescue dogs are trained to work independently, we expected that they would out-perform pet dogs on this independent task and that wasn’t the case. This suggests that the behavior of the owner, including their expectation of their dog and how they engage with their dog on a day-to-day basis, may influence the dog during a problem-solving task.

“This leads us to believe that communication between search and rescue dogs and their owner could be more effective than communication between pet dogs and their owners,” she said.

In the study, the dogs were given a solvable task with a person present: open a puzzle box containing a sausage within two minutes. They compared a group of 28 search and rescue dogs and a group of 31 pet dogs.

Search and rescue dogs were used as a comparison to pet dogs because they are traditionally trained to work independently from their owner. The search and rescue dogs were provided by Mountain Wave Search and rescue in Portland, Douglas County Search and Rescue in Roseburg, and Benton County Search and Rescue in Corvallis.

Pet dogs were recruited at random from the community through online advertisement and by way of word of mouth. Data from pet dogs from a 2015 study conducted by Udell were also used in the analysis. The dogs in both groups were from a variety of breeds.

The dogs were given the puzzle box under two conditions: alone in the room, and with their owner in the room standing neutrally. During the neutral phase, owners were instructed to stand in the room with their arms by their side and to avoid communicating with the dog. In the encouragement condition, the owner was instructed to encourage the dog however they saw appropriate, typically by using verbal praise or gestures, but without touching the dog or the container and without making contact with the dog or the container.

Before each condition the owner was instructed to “bait” the container by picking the container up, placing the food inside the container while the dog watched, and showing it to the dog to allow the dog to see that the container had food in it. Then they placed it on the ground in a designated location. In the neutral-human condition, the owner took three steps back and stood neutrally for two minutes. During the alone condition the owner left the room after placing the object on the ground.

In the human-neutral condition, three of the pet dogs and two of search and rescue dogs solved the task. Two pet dogs solved the task in the alone condition. In the encouragement condition, nine of the search and rescue dogs solved the task, while only two pet dogs did.

“When the owner’s social cues direct the dog towards the independent problem-solving task, then we see something interesting,” said Monique Udell, an animal scientist who directs the Human-Animal Interaction Lab in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “While most dogs increase the amount of time they spend attending to the puzzle when encouraged, pet dogs often end up treating the puzzle like a toy. Instead of engaging in goal directed behavior, they act as if their owner was encouraging them to play.”

Udell continued, “It’s possible that when directed by their owners, search and rescue dogs instead see opening the box as their job. Their owners may be more effective at communicating about the task at hand. Or maybe there is something inherently different about dogs that are selected for search and rescue that makes them more apt to solve the problem. More research is needed to know for sure.”

Source:  Oregon State University media statement

Dog-directed speech is more effective with puppies

 A small team of researchers from the U.S., the U.K. and France has found that puppies are more receptive to dog-directed speech than are adult dogs.
In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers describe experiments they conducted recording human voices and playing them back to dogs, what they found, and what it might mean for human communications.

dog

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Most everyone has heard dog-directed speech, which is similar to speech patterns some use when talking to infants—the voice gets higher, the words come out slower and there is a sort of sing-song phrasing.  (i.e. baby talk) Some of the phrases are familiar as well, such as “Who’s a good boy?” In this new effort, the researchers looked into the use of dog-directed speech seeking to learn if there might be any modulating factors in its use.

The experiments consisted of asking 30 female human volunteers to look at pictures of dogs while reading a script consisting of typical dog-directed speech phrases into a microphone to make recordings. The recordings were then played to 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at an animal shelter as the researchers watched and recorded their reactions.

The researchers report that the volunteers tended to raise their voices in ways similar to people speaking to human infants regardless of the age of the dog they were looking at, though it was noted that the voices were raised slightly higher for puppies than for adult dogs. They also report that at the animal shelter, the puppies responded very clearly to the voices coming from the speakers, acting as if they wanted to play. The adult dogs, on the other hand, after a quick investigation, ignored the recordings altogether.

The researchers were not able to explain why the humans spoke in dog-directed speech or why the puppies responded to it while the adult dogs did not, but suggest that humans likely respond to puppies in much the same way they respond to babies—and babies have been shown to respond more to baby-directed speech. As for why the older dogs were not interested, it might have been the case that they were simply older and wiser—they could see very clearly there was no human present speaking to them, so they chose to ignore whatever was being said.

(DoggyMom’s comment:  Smart dogs!)

Source:  Phys.org

Full journal reference:

  1. Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon. Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1846): 20162429 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429